Australia’s number six conundrum continues

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    It was unlikely Mitch Marsh was going to play the third Test. It is now a certainty.

    Team management has sent him back to Australia for treatment on an injured shoulder, an injury that he carried into the series.

    His four innings produced scores of 4, 31, 0 and 13 – albeit he received a near unplayable zooter in the first innings at Bangalore.

    He heads home having bowled just five of the 242 overs Australia has sent down so far.

    Much of that was predicated on the brevity of three of India’s innings which lasted 40, 36 and 71 overs.

    Had Marsh been dropped, as expected, his replacement would have come from Usman Khawaja, Glenn Maxwell, and Ashton Agar.

    Now that he has left the tour party, and with the third Test at Ranchi still a week away, the selectors have opted to fly in a replacement in Marcus Stoinis.

    Given the desire of a like-for-like selection, the other all-rounders considered would likely have been Moises Henriques, Travis Head, Hilton Cartwright and James Faulkner.

    Prior to the first Test and throughout the series there has been a groundswell of support for Khawaja.

    Coming off another solid home summer, he was dropped and replaced by Shaun Marsh, who has been serviceable.

    He top-scored in the first innings at Bangalore and was out for nine in the second after bizarrely opting not to use DRS.

    While the younger Marsh was struggling through the second Test the popular consensus was Khawaja should be brought in at number six for the next Test.

    Personally, I think that is a risky proposition.

    The pitch at Bangalore took everyone by surprise.

    Former Indian skipper Ravi Shastri lambasted the surface at Pune, declaring before a ball had been bowled that is was a fifth-day pitch. Shane Warne and Michael Clarke were also scathing.

    There was no such criticism at Bangalore.

    Across the board, Shastri, Clarke, Brett Lee, Matthew Hayden and Sunil Gavaskar all declared the pitch would be good for batting through the first three days before starting to produce natural deterioration.

    That was not the case with Nathan Lyon spinning it fiercely on day one and by the end of the second day several batsmen had been undone by balls that skidded low.

    After the humiliation at Pune, where the hosts outsmarted themselves, Bangalore was supposed to be a pitch akin to the low, slow turners that were produced for the recent England series.

    We can expect the pitches of that ilk at Ranchi and Dharmsala – both yet to have hosted a Test match – to be facsimiles of the England series.

    That is what India will be wanting.

    And, that being the case, playing a specialist batsman at number six may be fraught with danger.

    The India-England series produced attritional cricket.

    Three times, England batted first and posted large totals – 537, 400 and 477 – yet drew the 500-plus Test and lost the other two.

    India batted once in the fourth and fifth Tests of that series and won both by an innings.

    At Mumbai, it was dismissed for 631 and at Chennai declared at 7-759 after England scored 400 and 477 respectively.

    In those two matches, India’s first innings lasted 182 and 190 overs.

    There was a three-day break between those two Tests. There will be a four-day break between the third and fourth matches in this series.

    If India produces two pitches like it had for the four-nil win over England, Australia could find itself in the field for a very long period.

    The hosts have all the momentum having looked cooked after day one at Bangalore.

    K L Rahul (90 and 51), Cheteshwar Pujara (92) and Ajinkya Rahane (52) all looked good at Chinnaswamy Stadium.

    India finds itself at one-all, yet its talisman Virat Kohli has scored just 40 runs in four innings.

    India's captain Virat Kohli

    There is a strong likelihood that Australia will not be able to keep him on the leash for the entire series.

    The tourists cannot afford the risk of taking just four bowlers into the last two encounters as India is very likely to get the surfaces it desires.

    Both matches could go deep with innings absorbing well over 120 overs.

    Steve Smith will need more than just four specialists at his disposal.

    Of those in India, Ashton Agar and Glenn Maxwell, are better options than Khawaja as they do provide all-round abilities.

    Maxwell would be a risky proposition simply given his attacking approach. It is something Australia’s top-order has eschewed thus far.

    With Maxwell at six and Mitchell Starc at eight it would not be an ideal blend.

    Agar has developed into a capable batsman with a first-class average of 26.4 with two centuries and a Test 98 to his credit.

    That leaves the direct swap for Marsh in the tour party slotting straight into the side at Ranchi.

    Stoinis set the world on fire against New Zealand in the recent Chappell-Hadlee series with a blistering 146 not out at Auckland.

    Sadly, his first-class form this summer has been extremely mediocre – seven Sheffield Shield matches for 172 runs at 15.6. He has also taken eight wickets at 39.5.

    His selection appears a bold one on the back of such a lean domestic summer.

    Cartwright was blooded for the final Test of the summer, against Pakistan at the SCG, where he contributed 37 in Australia’s only innings and returned figures of 0-15 from four overs.

    In Shield ranks this summer, he has been consistent with the bat with 520 runs at 37.1, while his bowling has netted six wickets at 63.8.

    His presence in the SCG Test seemed to be a precursor to selection in the current series but it was Marsh who got the nod ahead of him.

    He would have certainly been high up in the selectors’ thinking.

    Head has 444 Shield runs at 40.4 and ten wickets at 43.1 this summer.

    The Redbacks skipper also continued to impress at ODI level, notching a maiden century at Adelaide against Pakistan.

    However, had he joined the squad he would be very akin to Maxwell, an aggressive batsman and off-spinner.

    Australia did not need both Head and Maxwell in the tour party.

    Faulkner has had a steady summer for Tasmania with 269 runs at 33.6 and ten wickets at 37.0.

    His one Test, against England at The Oval in August 2013, produced innings of 23 and 22, while he returned match figures of 6-98.

    Since that time, he appears to have been pigeon-holed as a white ball specialist.

    His pace variations with the ball and hard-lower order hitting, although that has been on the wane, has won numerous limited-overs matches for his country.

    He has significant experience on Indian pitches as a fixture on the IPL circuit.

    So too, does Henriques.

    He has had a stand-out summer with the willow, striking a career-best 265 and amassing 659 Shield runs at 65.9. He scored another half-century yesterday against South Australia.

    In recent seasons the SCG pitch has started to return to the more spin-friendly surface of yesteryear with Henriques handing the turning ball well.

    As Blues skipper, he has only called on himself to bowl 36 overs this season during which he has taken 3-186.

    Henriques burst onto the Test stage on the ill-fated 2013 tour of India, scoring 68 and 81 not out on debut at Chennai.

    Things went south after that. He was suspended as part of ‘Homeworkgate’ and failed to reach double figures in his other four innings on the tour.

    He toured Sr Lanka last year and was called up for the third Test where he scored a pair of fours, being run out in the second innings.

    Given his form this summer with the bat and the fact that he is a more patient, watchful batsman at first-class level than the other all-rounders in the frame, he would have been my choice as the replacement for Marsh.

    He is broad of shoulder, and bowls very much a stump to stump line, which would suit the lower slower pitches that Australia will likely face in the last two Tests.

    The selectors have instead plumped for Stoinis.

    It is now a race in four for the spot at number six – Khawaja, Agar, Maxwell and Stoinis.

    Given the tack taken with Marsh, Stoinis may well now have the inside running.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.

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    The Crowd Says (126)

    • March 9th 2017 @ 5:00am
      Daniel said | March 9th 2017 @ 5:00am | ! Report

      The other option that has been floated of course is putting Starc at 7 and picking another specialist bowler. If the last 2 pitches are batting paradises… this may be the best option.

      • March 9th 2017 @ 8:06am
        Dom said | March 9th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        That’s a big if. Would be a bold move to weaken the batting further immediately after failing to chase 180-odd to win. I’d still trust our bowling over our batting on current form.

    • March 9th 2017 @ 7:04am
      qwetzen said | March 9th 2017 @ 7:04am | ! Report

      Stoinis? What happened to the recently discovered selection method of picking players in form? Picking a player as a #6 who has a current SS average of 15 is a poor selection. He’s a big fella though, maybe he’s been picked for the upcoming brawl.

      • March 9th 2017 @ 8:02am
        jameswm said | March 9th 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

        Cartwright’s a big fella too.

      • March 9th 2017 @ 9:16am
        rock said | March 9th 2017 @ 9:16am | ! Report

        What an absolute crock of a selection. If he plays, we are no hope.

        Selectors thinking, “No shield form – however didn’t everyone see how good he was in that one game of ODI. Yep, so we can all agree that even though he is crap in the domestic longer format, that single ODI display will definitely means he will succeed at international test cricket, especially in India.”

      • Roar Guru

        March 9th 2017 @ 9:56am
        Ryan H said | March 9th 2017 @ 9:56am | ! Report

        Mind-boggling…if Stoinis had’ve had a Shield season like his last two, I’d say he’d have played a few tests by now, but in reality he’s had a horrendous trot as Glenn points out.

        It seems the selectors fancy ODI performances above just about anything else because it is proof said player can handle the International stage. Don’t think it makes sense though and am in agreement with those thinking it’s a crock of a selection with little basis.

    • March 9th 2017 @ 7:48am
      BurgyGreen said | March 9th 2017 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      Would’ve gone with Cartwright myself.

      If the pitches stay the same as the first two Tests my preference would be Maxwell and then Khawaja. If the pitch is actually flat this time, then play Stoinis.

      At no point would I consider playing Agar at 6 or even 7. Do we really believe that a guy with a first class average of 26 is going to be a significant improvement on Marsh? Plus his bowling’s mediocre anyway.

    • Roar Guru

      March 9th 2017 @ 7:57am
      Red Kev said | March 9th 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

      Another brilliant selection from Cricket Australia.
      Dropping a guy who has averaged 20 with the bat and 38 with the ball in first class cricket since mid-2016, and replacing him a guy averaging 19 with the bat and 37 with the ball in the same timeframe. What a way to add some steel to that middle order!
      Sometimes I just give up. Do Hohns and Lehmann sit around eating lead paint chips in their spare time or something?

      • March 9th 2017 @ 8:04am
        Dom said | March 9th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

        But remember all those sixes he hit in NZ? That’s the kind of grit we need at No.6, apparently.

        Let’s just hope Stoinis doesn’t actually play.

        • Roar Rookie

          March 9th 2017 @ 8:28am
          El Loco said | March 9th 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

          Remarkable isn’t it, he’s actually less credentialed than Mitch. But what the hell, he had a freaky day out in completely unrelated circumstances, get him on over. Don’t we have enough players “there for the experience”?

    • March 9th 2017 @ 8:00am
      Maggie said | March 9th 2017 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      Henriques was not one of the four players suspended in India in 2013 (Watson, Johnson, Pattinson, Khawaja).

      • Columnist

        March 9th 2017 @ 8:17am
        Glenn Mitchell said | March 9th 2017 @ 8:17am | ! Report

        Apologies.

      • Roar Guru

        March 9th 2017 @ 8:40am
        The Bush said | March 9th 2017 @ 8:40am | ! Report

        He should be permanently suspended from ever playing for Australia. He makes Marsh look comfortable at Test level.

      • March 9th 2017 @ 9:06am
        Pope Paul VII said | March 9th 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

        Unfortunately

    • March 9th 2017 @ 8:04am
      jameswm said | March 9th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      Maxwell or Khawaja. One of them comes in. Depends a bit on the deck.

      • Columnist

        March 9th 2017 @ 8:18am
        Glenn Mitchell said | March 9th 2017 @ 8:18am | ! Report

        Judging by Bangalore, ascertaining what the pitch will actually play like may be a issue.

        • March 9th 2017 @ 8:26am
          jameswm said | March 9th 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

          Maybe it won’t depend on the pitch.

          If it’s a dustbowl, Maxwell is more use because his bowling might be useful, and he’s more likely to score runs on a dustbowl.

          If it’s a flat deck with a lot of runs, then you need the extra 1/2 bowler and have to rely on your top 5 more for the runs.

          Either way, Maxwell might be more use.

          • March 9th 2017 @ 9:49am
            Amith said | March 9th 2017 @ 9:49am | ! Report

            We lost the last test match because we didn’t have enough batting strength, its not our bowling that we need to beef up but our bowling, get khawaja in who was the test star for us and handled the pakistani leg spinner who is among the best in the world with ease. Khawaja should always have been there and the fact people are still finding a way not to include him is absurd. Move shaun to 6 and put khawaja at

            • March 9th 2017 @ 10:22am
              Jameswm said | March 9th 2017 @ 10:22am | ! Report

              There could be an issue with Khawaja scoring runs in India. But I guess there is only o ne way to find out.

              • Roar Guru

                March 9th 2017 @ 11:36am
                DingoGray said | March 9th 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

                So at his worst we be in the same boat as what Mitch is currently providing us.

              • March 9th 2017 @ 12:52pm
                Ron said | March 9th 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

                Khawaja can score but how can a guy find confidence if you kick him out and make him the scapegoat ever time the team loses

              • March 9th 2017 @ 1:29pm
                Jameswm said | March 9th 2017 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

                He got kicked out after we had WON several tests.

              • March 11th 2017 @ 12:12pm
                Ross said | March 11th 2017 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

                Dropping Khawaja was a joke, he was our best batsman for tests in both series

          • March 9th 2017 @ 5:26pm
            Armchair Expert said | March 9th 2017 @ 5:26pm | ! Report

            Apparently one of Lyon’s spinning fingers are worn and blistered, Maxwell would be a no brainer as a back up in the team if that’s the case.

        • March 9th 2017 @ 11:38am
          Ron said | March 9th 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

          Get Khawaja in, it’s our batting we need strengthen not our bowling

          • Columnist

            March 9th 2017 @ 1:07pm
            Glenn Mitchell said | March 9th 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

            Interesting that everyone keeps saying that it is our batting that needs to be strengthened. Aside from the 6-11 collapse late at Bangalore AUS’ batting has been superior to IND:

            Pune: AUS 260 & 285
            IND 105 & 107
            Bangalore: AUS 276 & 112
            IND 189 & 274

            • Roar Guru

              March 9th 2017 @ 2:20pm
              Red Kev said | March 9th 2017 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

              So far this series “better than India” is not “good”.
              There was a collapse in the Pune First Innings of 7/56 as well (from 2/149 to 9/205).

            • March 9th 2017 @ 3:44pm
              andrew said | March 9th 2017 @ 3:44pm | ! Report

              if you have rolled a side 4 times for an average of 168, then its fair to you say, you do not need to bolster your bowling stocks. two things emerge. 1 – the existing bowling line is obviously gelling quite well. 2 – the bowlers are not being overworked.

              i do accept of course the 3rd/4th test pitches may differ. and i woudl totally accept that if the selectors think these matches will be more 400+ wickets, then you might well want to add swepson.

              i see no point adding agar. you dont need 2 x left arm orthodox spinners.

              i think the selectors have a crucial decision to make. almost a series defning one, in terms of calling the pitch right. as then influences where the final spot goes.

              maxwell is probably best ‘cover all bases’ options now. but i could see a case for usman or swepson pending on what type of pitch they think it will be.

            • March 9th 2017 @ 6:00pm
              Darren L said | March 9th 2017 @ 6:00pm | ! Report

              That’s a very good point Glenn. Performance needs to be looked at in context. In the context of these matches and pitches the batting has stood up quite well. The momentum swing in this match was day three – Australia’s tail failed and then the bowling at the start of the Indian innings was ordinary. In addition, the Pujara/Rahane partnership swung the match. This was not a failing of the top order.

              • March 11th 2017 @ 12:14pm
                Ross said | March 11th 2017 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

                Simple fact, Khawaja was our best test batman in the summer of cricket and our batting in the second innings was more realistic in what we will face in the cominf tests so for crying out loud get Khawaja in at 3 and move marsh to 6

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